I often write about living a joyful life filled with hope, in spite of painful or devastating circumstances. So, what exactly is hope—the kind of hope Christians have? Here is a great answer to this question from GotQuestions?, one of my favorite sites. Question: “What is the Christian’s hope?” Answer: Most people understand hope as wishful thinking, as in “I hope something will happen.” This is not what the Bible means by hope. The biblical definition of hope is “confident expectation.” Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25;Hebrews 11:1,7). Hope is a fundamental component of the life of the righteous (Proverbs 23:18). Without hope, life loses its meaning (Lamentations 3:18;Job 7:6) and in death there is no hope (Isaiah 38:18;Job 17:15). The righteous who trust or put their hope in God will be helped (Psalm 28:7), and they will not be confounded, put to shame, or disappointed (Isaiah 49:23). The righteous, who have this trustful hope in God, have a general confidence in God’s protection and help (Jeremiah 29:11) and are free from fear and anxiety (Psalm 46:2-3). The New Testament idea of hope is the recognition that in Christ is found the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (Matthew 12:21,1 Peter 1:3). Christian hope is rooted in faith in the divine salvation in Christ (Galatians 5:5). Hope of Christians is brought into being through the presence of the promised Holy Spirit (Romans 8:24-25). It is the future hope of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6), the promises given to Israel (Acts 26:6-7), the redemption of the body and of the whole creation (Romans 8:23-25), eternal glory (Colossians 1:27), eternal life and the inheritance of the saints (Titus 3:5-7), the return of Christ (Titus 2:11-14), transformation into the likeness of Christ (1 John 3:2-3), the salvation of God (1 Timothy 4:10) or simply Christ Himself (1 Timothy 1:1). Read more here.
This is another devotional from Streams in the Desert. It made my eyes leak.
God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.
A poet stands by the window watching a summer shower. It is a fierce downpour, beating and pounding the earth. But the poet, in his mind’s eye, sees more than a rain shower falling. He sees a myriad of lovely flowers raining down, soon breaking forth from the freshly watered earth, and filling it with their matchless beauty and fragrance. And so he sings:
It isn’t raining again to me —it’s raining daffodils;
In every dripping drop I see wildflowers upon the hills.
A cloud of gray engulfs the day, and overwhelms the town;
It isn’t raining rain to me—it’s raining roses down.
Perhaps you are undergoing some trial as God’s child, and you are saying to Him, “O God, it is raining very hard on me tonight, and this test seems beyond my power to endure. Disappointments are pouring in, washing away and utterly defeating my chosen plans. My trembling heart is grieved and is cowering at the intensity of my suffering. Surely the rains of affliction are beating down upon my soul.”
Dear friend, you are completely mistaken. God is not raining rain on you—He is raining blessings. If you will only believe your Father’s Word, you will realize that springing up beneath the pounding rain are spiritual flowers. And they are more beautiful and fragrant than those that ever grew before in your stormless and suffering-free life.
You can see the rain, but can you also see the flowers? You are suffering through these tests, but know that God sees sweet flowers of faith springing up in your life beneath these very trials. You try to escape the pain, yet God sees tender compassion for other sufferers finding birth in your soul. Your heart winces at the pain of heavy grief, but God sees the sorrow deepening and enriching your life.
No, my friend, it is not raining afflictions on you. It is raining tenderness, love, compassion, patience, and a thousand other flowers and fruits of the blessed Holy Spirit. And they are bringing to your life spiritual enrichment that all the prosperity and ease of this world could ever produce in your innermost being. —J.M.M
Songs across the Storm
A harp stood in the calm, still air,
Where showers of sunshine washed a thousand fragrant blooms;
A traveler bowed with loads of care
Struggled from morning till the dusk of evening glooms
To strum sweet sounds from the songless strings;
The pilgrim strives in vain with each unanswering chord,
Until the tempest’s thunder sings,
And, moving on the storm, the fingers of the Lord
A wondrous melody awakes;
And though the battling winds their soldier deeds perform,
Their trumpet-sound brave music makes
While God’s assuring voice sings love across the storm.
This is another really great devotional from Streams in the Desert. I am so thoroughly enjoying reading this book again that I’ll be sharing these often.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him,
“So shall your offspring be.”
Without weakening in his faith,
he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead
—since he was about a hundred years old—
and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed. . . . Without weakening in his faith. (Romans 4:18–19)
I will never forget the statement which that great man of faith George Mueller once made to a gentleman who had asked him the best way to have strong faith:
“The only way to know strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm through severe testings.”
How true this is! You must trust when all else fails.
Dear soul, you may scarcely realize the value of your present situation. If you are enduring great afflictions right now, you are at the source of the strongest faith. God will teach you during these dark hours to have the most powerful bond to His throne you could ever know, if you will only submit.
“Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36). But if you ever are afraid, simply look up and say, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Ps. 56:3). Then you will be able to thank God for His school of sorrow that became for you the school of faith.
—A. B. Simpson
Great faith must first endure great trials.
God’s greatest gifts come through great pain. Can we find anything of value in the spiritual or the natural realm that has come about without tremendous toil and tears? Has there ever been any great reform, any discovery benefiting humankind, or any soul- awakening revival, without the diligence and the shedding of blood of those whose sufferings were actually the pangs of its birth? For the temple of God to be built, David had to bear intense afflictions. And for the gospel of grace to be extricated from Jewish tradition, Paul’s life had to be one long agony.
Take heart, O weary, burdened one, bowed down
Beneath your cross;
Remember that your greatest gain may come
Through greatest loss.
Your life is nobler for a sacrifice,
And more divine.
Acres of blooms are crushed to make a drop
Of perfume fine.
Because of storms that lash the ocean waves,
The waters there
Keep purer than if the heavens o’erhead
Were always fair.
The brightest banner of the skies floats not
At noonday warm;
The rainbow follows after thunderclouds,
And after storm.
Last week I was looking back at some of my first posts, back in 2011. My second post was titled “I Wonder…” When I read it again, I was struck by how much has happened and yet stayed the same since then. Hmm… isn’t that considered a paradox?
This is what I wrote then.
Lately I’ve been wondering about the deeper meaning of life. I mean, what if this is all there is?
I read this earlier today:
“If I see God in everything, He will calm and color everything I see! Perhaps the circumstances causing my sorrows will not be removed and my situation will remain the same, but if Christ is brought into my grief and gloom as my Lord and Master, He will “surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).”
Now, I have to start by saying that I do try to see God in everything, but I’m not really sure about that “calm and color everything I see” stuff. When I live with yet another migraine (and this current one has lasted almost all week), hear about helpless hurting children, view photos depicting yet another flood or earthquake, read about another tax hike-pay cut-employee cutback-home foreclosure, or simply stand by the side of a close friend struggling just to make ends meet, I ask myself again: what is life really all about? Are we simply here to suffer through life’s challenges and then die? Or is there something more?
We all have a yearning to know the reasons behind our circumstances—that desire to justify the bad things that happen to us. If we seek to do what is right, help others who are in need, and are very careful to not hurt anyone or anything, why must we still suffer?
I don’t have the answers, although I know Who does. Stay tuned…
Fast forward 4 years to where I now am physically.
Every day is a new adventure in pain. I still live with several chronic pain illnesses: Fibromyalgia (FMS), Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), and chronic migraines. CFIDS is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).
Some people with FMS or CFS/CFIDS/ME get better over time. Others get worse, and I’m in this group. Add to this that my migraines now assault me daily. We live at a 5500 foot elevation, and my doctor told me once that she believes my body never has adjusted to living in a high elevation area, even though we’ve been here for almost eleven years.
Every prescription medication I’ve tried for any of these illnesses has either not worked for me or caused huge side effects. Alternative therapies such as acupressure, acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic or massage only work as long as it takes to administer the therapy. Several years ago I used to work out several times a week, until I realized that exercising through my pain was causing even worse migraines.
Does this get me down? My feelings try to make me feel frustrated and helpless about all of this. But read on to find out the one Reason I can grab hold of those feelings before they take over.
This leads to what’s going on now with me spiritually.
I am more convinced than ever that God is with me every single day. My true hope is in Jesus Christ and this is what carries me through each day. On days like today when I’m going through yet another FMS/CFS flare and everything I do causes even more pain, migraines and nausea, I struggle with all of this.
Not the why of it, because I know everything in my life is part of God’s plan for me. It’s the persistence … the everydayness of it … that is wearying.
These days, my life is a very delicate balance. I need to weigh everything. If I want to do something as simple as the laundry, I need to allow for rest time before as well as afterward. And most times there is payback after the activity even if I have rested well beforehand. It is very frustrating.
In spite of all that, there persists in me a joyful hope that never fails to uplift my heart. I know without a doubt that God is always with me throughout all of it. And if anyone can truly understand my pain, it is Jesus. He not only understands it, He holds me close in His arms and comforts me when I am in pain and feel discouraged. He is my God of hope. He helps me cling to that hope, which turns my frustration and weariness into joy and peace.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, please remember that if we completely place our trust in God, He will fill us with hope, joy and peace. The more we trust in Him, the more He supplies all the hope, joy and peace we need every single day.
Hope in God is saying “no” to fear or discouragement, and by so doing, saying “yes” to something that will satisfy much more down the line. Wait on God, believing that what God has planned is so much better that what we grab for ourselves! —Joni Eareckson Tada
A FEAST OF JOY
“The cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15). Joy is a perpetual, delicious smorgasbord of delight, an avalanche of dazzling power that encompasses the heart and soul. Joy is exhilarating, lavishing our lives with zeal. Joy captivates behavior, illuminating a smile or a deep sustained laugh. Body language conveys our emotions with a sparkle in our eyes, spontaneous hand-clapping, or a little jumping up-and-down.
The exchange of wedding vows amplifies hearts with love, flooding them with joy. In such instances, joy owns the gamut of our emotions, rendering us incapable of passively managing surges of jubilation. Because the occasion is so anticipated and celebrated, our hearts stagger under the load, making us feel as if our epicenter of joy will actually implode. The Psalmist expresses it well: “My heart leaps for joy” (Psalm 28:7).
God’s Word is replete with examples of people whose joy knew no bounds even under the most profoundly challenging circumstances. Miriam, sister of Moses, unabashedly rallied the Israeli women to sing, using tambourines and dance to exuberantly express joy and gratitude to the Lord following His miraculous delivery of the Israelites from generations of slavery in Egypt. The women converted their sorrow and mourning into enthusiastic singing to God for His spectacular victory over the pharaoh and the Egyptian army.
David, King of Israel, was ecstatic that the ark of the covenant, the representation of God’s throne on earth, was returned to Israeli’s possession after many decades of absence following its seizure by the Philistines, who considered it no more than a lucky talisman. Rallying the people in a Jerusalem street parade, “David danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sounds of trumpets” (2 Samuel 6:14-15). It was a time of tremendous rejoicing of national impact. David’s dance was one of true worship, explicitly demonstrating extraordinary love for his Lord.
Job, an Old Testament character, was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job’s dilemma still raises the quintessential question of why the righteous suffer. Job was steadfast regarding his innocence, though his friends accused him of liability for his suffering, determined that Job had caused his own demise by sinning. Job’s wife was so repulsed and discouraged with Job’s all-encompassing body sores, she advised Job to curse God and die. Having little hope for a cure and grieving the loss of his ten children and all of his possessions in one day, Job knew his joy could be deferred as he anticipated eternal life in heaven. Thus he admitted, “Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain” (Job 6:10). In light of heaven, Job could readily rejoice, knowing he had remained true to God throughout his long ordeal on earth.
Paul and Silas were captured by the Roman authorities, then stripped and beaten with a whip made of several strips of leather into which were embedded bone and lead at the end. Once severely flogged with the whip, they were thrown into an inner cell in the dark, dank, malodorous prison with their feet fastened in stocks. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Suddenly a violent earthquake shook the prison, opening the cell doors and loosening prisoners’ chains. The jailer, responsible for all prisoners, was startled from sleep and assumed the prisoners had escaped. Paul and Silas intervened before the jailer committed suicide with his sword, and presented the Gospel to the jailer and his family. The jailer was then “filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34). What unusual events were set in motion by a God who was honored and worshipped in spite of life-threatening conditions! When we trust in God, joy reigns supreme, regardless of adverse situations!
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the epitome of joy. He who was sinless during his entire life on earth, acknowledged His ultimate goal was to glorify His Father by offering His life as a perfect sacrifice, to redeem sinners of this world. When the soldiers burst into Jesus’ reverie of quiet prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to take Him by force, Jesus succumbed to the Roman authorities, willingly complying with their orders. “Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and set down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). Jesus obediently chose to die; otherwise no one would have had the power to kill Him.
The peace Jesus exhibited during his brutal trial and agonizing crucifixion ordeal is beyond our finite understanding. Though Jesus was exhausted and hurting on all levels, He rejoiced spiritually because He was accomplishing the goal for which He had given up His glory in heaven for a season to live on earth—that of becoming the perfect sacrificial Lamb to atone for sin. Jesus’ joy was powerful and zealous; the bounds of Christ’s joy were immeasurable.
If the man, Jesus, could prompt any amount of joy while confronting a terrifying, heinous crucifixion, it was only because He spent quality time with His heavenly Father in prayer, who strengthened Jesus’ commitment to His life’s goal. Utter joy is only possible for us because through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He guarantees our inheritance, providing hope for a life of joy on earth and a glorious eternity in heaven.
When Jesus appeared to His followers after his resurrection, He revealed to them the crucifixion wounds in His hands and His side. The disciples were so ecstatic to actually see Jesus alive, their joy was contagious, extending throughout the centuries to our current generation: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Indeed, we are commanded to rejoice. The Apostle Paul, himself frequently plagued with hostility and extreme suffering, taught: “‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’” (Philippians 4:4). Christ was the source and secret of Paul’s joy.
One of our life’s objectives is irrefutable: we are to be defined by worshipful joy in which God’s entire creation participates. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96; 11-12). Since all of nature responds to His authority, God accepts joyful worship from everything He creates. On that premise, let us assess the amount of joyous adoration our Redeemer receives from us. “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:1-2).
Joy is not passive, but animated, manifesting praise and thanksgiving. Miriam and David unapologetically sang and danced before God Almighty. Like them, we eagerly worship our Savior, passionately reflecting His character with effervescent expressions of joy. It is God’s desire that we live triumphant lives, for which joy is one of the important components. Jesus said, “‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’” (John 10-10, KJV). Let our words and actions be saturated with bountiful joy!
Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
—1 Thessalonians 1:9–10
One biblical scholar describes hope this way: “From a biblical perspective, hope may be best imaged as a line suspended between past experience of God’s reliability and a future that is still open, a line stretched taut between the reliability and the freedom of Israel’s God.” The greatest demonstration of God’s reliability is Jesus: the Son of God who willingly became fully man, who suffered an unjust death by crucifixion, and who was vindicated by God in the resurrection. What a wonderful example for our own hope!
Our reading today is from the introduction of Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica. Throughout these verses Paul unpacks the multiplying nature of hope in Jesus. The Thessalonians had been persecuted since they had accepted Jesus (v. 6). But despite their suffering, they were enduring “inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). When the Thessalonians looked at Jesus, they saw that He had suffered and been resurrected, and with Him as their model they too could continue to hope.
The hope of the Thessalonians was inspired by the example of Jesus, and then their own lives and hope became encouraging examples for others (v. 7). This is the power of hope in Jesus: not only does it strengthen our own endurance in the spiritual life, it also provides a witness of God’s power for others to see.
Finally, notice the specific hope in Jesus that produced faithful obedience. The Thessalonians had embraced faith in the living God, and the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of His return and ultimate deliverance to live with Him kept them motivated to love and serve the Lord. Jesus endured suffering—and so did they. Jesus had been resurrected to eternal life—and so would they. What a basis for hope!
Apply the Word
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation for our hope—not just the theology we believe but also the hope that inspires our daily lives and sustains us in difficult days. Without the resurrection of Jesus, we Christians should be pitied (see 1 Cor. 15:19). But because our hope is in Jesus’ victory over death, we know that our work for God is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
Great is Your Faithfulness
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. —Lamentations 3:21-23
How often do we do things that disappoint the people in our lives?
Maybe we’ve made a promise that later we found we can’t keep. Perhaps we raise our voice in anger again even though we don’t mean to. And how about the times when a friend or family member tries to sympathize with our pain? They mean well, but you’re certain they just don’t understand. I’m sure you’ve wanted to tell them, “You have no idea what it’s like to be in this kind of pain every day.”
At this point, we have two choices: to dwell on our misery or get on with the business of life.
We can moan and groan about our circumstances so everyone is aware of how much we are hurting, or we can demonstrate God’s presence in our lives by rejoicing in the knowledge that He is faithful to be with us through our tough times.
I have a very close friend (you know who you are!) who is a good example of one who lets God shine through her in spite of her constant pain. She once shared her feelings about pain with me this way:
“It is just pain. It could be worse. I could be suffering with pain and dying. It is only pain. I can still live and make the most of my life, to extend myself as far as I can go, to reach for the stars, to do the unimaginable. The pain will still be there. So, why not celebrate?”
This dear friend is such an encourager. Her positive attitude is a beacon of light in the darkness of pain. Quite simply, she makes me smile no matter how awful I’m feeling.
Beloved, the Lord is our only hope! He knows exactly what our pain is like and He will help us through it “every morning; great is [His] faithfulness.” He understands how constant pain can undermine a positive attitude and make us feel hopeless. But He’s always with us, ready to offer His love and comfort: “therefore I have hope.” Won’t you please pray with me?
Heavenly Father, sometimes it’s so hard to be cheerful and hopeful when I’m feeling so rotten. It’s easier for me to just give up and let the pain take over. But, Lord, I know that You love me too much to let me feel this way. Thank You for what You are teaching me through these trials and for being with me always. Help me to let Your joy flow through me to touch the lives of others who may also be suffering. You are great and greatly to be praised! Amen.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6
I’m sure most of us have been the recipients of birth announcements from friends and family. We get excited when we read the good news, but have any of those been as exciting or answered such a deep need as this one from Isaiah?
We announce the birth of our sweet, cuddly and cute newborns with clever sayings amid pastel colors and pictures of bunnies, kittens, teddy bears, and the like. But just look at how Jesus’ birth is described by the prophet Isaiah:
Wonderful Counselor … Mighty God … Everlasting Father … Prince of Peace
Beloved, this is not a mere birth announcement. It is a heavenly proclamation!
I cannot think of any other gift that means more to us than God’s special gift to mankind: His Son, Jesus Christ. All over the world, people exchange presents in commemoration of this ultimate gift, which is the only means of rescue from our sins.
Before we realize the need for Jesus in our lives, we are in a deep darkness of doubt and anxiety. After we ask Jesus to come into our hearts as our Savior, we leap from that lonely, dark void into a glorious and joyful anticipation of eternal life with Him at our side.
Just as Jesus’ death on the cross changes our darkness into the radiant light of eternal joy, a close relationship with Him is the only thing that can help us find joy and thankfulness amidst our daily struggles and pain. Jesus understands what we’re going through and wants us to lean on Him for comfort, support and spiritual nourishment. His birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophetic message of hope and in the same way, we can look forward to this realization:
our ultimate hope is a perfect heaven in which there will be no pain or suffering
Beloved, I’m thinking that after going through this earthly time of pain and anguish, we will be dancing with joy and delight as we step into that glorious heavenly light! This is what we should be celebrating as Christmas approaches!